French In Name Only

A Genealogical Blog about the French and Grace Families

Month: January 2015

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Ticket Punched – The Death of Walter French

Norwalk_rail_disasterThis story is drawn from a number of news and personal accounts (links provided below) of the crash referred to as the Norwalk Catastrophe. 

Walter French was born on August 29, 1810 in Billerica, Massachusetts.  He  was the son of Luther and Sarah (Bowers) French and was the brother of my 3rd g-grandfather Abram French. Walter died on May 6, 1853 in Norwalk, Connecticut when a New York-New Haven Railroad train ran through an open drawbridge and plunged into the Norwalk River.  The crash resulted in the death forty-six passengers and was an early example of media sensationalism.  This crash is referenced as being the first major drawbridge accident in U.S. history.
Read on to learn more!

(According to published reports) The  Boston express started its trip early in the morning of May 6th departing from New York and heading towards Massachusetts.  As the train approached Stamford, Connecticut, the steamship ‘Pacific’ was nearing the Norwalk River Railroad Bridge.  In a control tower adjacent to the drawbridge, the operator saw the steamship coming and began making preparations to open the drawbridge so that the steamship could go through. This drawbridge opened by having the middle section of the bridge turned in such a way as to lie parallel with the water below.

The operator signaled to alert any oncoming trains that the drawbridge was going to be turned and then he activated the mechanism so the ‘Pacific’ steamship could go through. After he signaled the all clear, the steamship slowly made its way through. Once the steamship was out of the way, the operator turned to adjust the mechanism back so that the drawbridge could be closed. Just as he was getting ready to do this, he noticed in horror the New Haven Railroad train coming full steam down its track towards the still open drawbridge. The occupants in the train obviously did not get the signal about the drawbridge being opened. As soon as the engineer and crew of the train realized the drawbridge was open, they jumped from the train into the river below.

The uncontrolled train seemed to pick up more speed as it hurled its way closer to the open drawbridge. It ran off its tracks and two passenger cars fell into the river below with a third passenger car, hanging over the bridge. Witnesses watched as freight, mail, luggage and passengers fell into the river, some of which got caught up in the current and floated out to sea. There is no mention of Walter’s body ever being recovered).

© David R. French and French in Name Only, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David French and French in Name Only with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It is About Time

“Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”
― Haruki Murakami

My father, John S. French Sr., kept his father’s pocket watch hanging in a display case on his dresser. The watch was given to him by his sister Barbara following his father’s death.  As in many families, his relationship with his father was complicated and troubled. Following his parent’s divorce, the 1940 U.S. Census shows him, as an eight-year old boy, living with his father in a Hartford boarding house. When his father remarried, he was the odd man out and was sent to live with his stepmother’s family until he graduated from high school.

I do not know why dad kept the watch in a place where he saw it every day, perhaps as a reminder of how far he had come or pride in that he did not repeat the mistakes of his father.

Inscription: Mother to George – Dec. 25-15 (shown in photograph #1)

Photographs #2 (movement) and #3 (watch face) are not of this specific watch.

Watch Details – 1915 Hamilton Grade No. 974, 16-size, open face, high grade 17-jewel, and adjusted to temperature (but not positions).  This model was manufactured from 1905 to 1927.  In 1915, 2,500 were produced.

FYI – The movement and case were sold separately for most American watches at this time. The customer would go to the jeweler and select the movement and the case separately, and then the movement would be installed in the case by the jeweler or watchmaker at the time of sale.

© David R. French and French in Name Only, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David French and French in Name Only with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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